Woman saved by sprinklers

Smoking in bed the likely cause of fire that trapped disabled woman

A 60-year-old Parksville woman can thank the sprinkler system in her four-plex for keeping her alive, says fire Chief Doug Banks.

The woman, Karen Johnson, was in bed at her home at 280 Moilliet Street in Parksville just before midnight Saturday when the blankets on her bed caught fire.

“The lady called us and reported the blankets were on fire on her bed,” Banks said. “She is confined to a wheelchair and she wasn’t able to get out.”

Banks said firefighters raced to the scene and attempted to rescue the woman, but were turned back by the heavy smoke.

“The smoke was too much,” he said. “We couldn’t do it.”

An RCMP officer tried to climb in a window to rescue Johnson, but was also unsuccessful.

“He reached in to get the venetian blinds out of the way and while he was trying to rip those down he got a severe cut on his hand,” Banks said. “It was pretty nasty.”

By this time, more equipment arrived on scene and a team of firefighters, equipped with breathing apparatus, were able to enter the building and get the woman out of danger.

“Fortunately, all the units in this building had sprinklers and the sprinkler system put the fire out,” he said. “We got fans up and cleared the smoke out and an ambulance took her and the injured officer to hospital in Nanaimo.”

The woman suffered second degree burns to her leg and smoke inhalation. However, without the sprinklers, Banks said, the result could have been tragic.

“Without the sprinklers it would have been severe burns,” he said. “Without a doubt, the sprinklers saved her life.”

Although there was water damage to the woman’s home, the other three units in the four-plex were unaffected.

‘The damage was minimal, compared to what it would have been without the sprinklers,” he said.

Banks said smoking in bed is suspected as being the cause for the fire.

Johnson is recovering in hospital.